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The Mental Health Crisis in the Construction Industry

Published October 07, 2020 (last updated June 7, 2022) - Head of Health and Safety
two construction workers discuss their mental health

The suicide rates in the building and construction industry are alarming. Workers in this industry are six times more likely to die by suicide than through workplace accidents. Even worse, these deaths have a ripple effect on the friends and families of the deceased.

Families have to exist with the torment of living without their loved one, with some losing a substantial source of their household income. The statistic above is enough to raise a few questions on the mental health practices among construction workers; Why are suicide rates among construction workers this high? How can the mental health situation within the industry be improved?

Statistics on the Poor Mental Health Situation in the Industry

For a long time, there has been a stigma around talking about all things mental health-related. While the stigma still exists to date, a lot of steps have been made to destigmatize mental health conversations. Many organisations have been leading research-backed conversations around the topic. Here are three noteworthy statistics from leading organisations about the mental health status in the building and construction industry:

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The Macho Culture Makes It Tough to Speak Up

A male-dominated industry, construction workers function in a macho and bold culture. They find it hard to share details about their life and anything that might be weighing them down. The fact that workers have to, sometimes, spend days or weeks away from their families limits the number of people they can naturally vent out their issues to.

Instead of speaking up, some end up indulging in alcohol, substance abuse, and gambling, which does little to help. In fact, these practices exacerbate their condition. Lastly, banter among workmates can sometimes cross the line- it can turn into bullying. This is an issue most apprentices experience in most cases.

The Job Structure Contributes To the High Stress Levels

Job security is a huge issue among construction workers. With most projects being transient, workers have to work on a project-by-project basis. While some projects can continue for years, others last a few weeks. Workers with dependants to feed and bills to pay often have to worry about whether they will get another project to help sustain themselves.

Even worse, most clients are typically looking to cut the cost of their construction projects. This bid to cut the cost often trickles down to the workers’ paycheck. If a company doesn’t bid low, the chances are that they might lose the project to a competitor.

Unlike the good portion of self-employed workers, those working under specific companies tend to enjoy some form of protection from these issues. The companies work overtime to cater to the rights of their workforce. However, this protection isn’t always guaranteed to the subcontractors that these companies outsource specific construction tasks.

How to Change This Mental Health Narrative

Businesses need to make changes to their workplace culture. They need to create an environment where construction workers can speak up about their struggles to the mates they trust. If possible, these companies can provide departments for counselling their employees.

They could also partner with organisations that provide mental health training. Programs like the Mates in Construction are created for this specific purpose. Such companies can provide invaluable insights on how to approach the mental health problems among any workforce. The training will arm workers with the skill to identify a colleague that is struggling and speak to them. This can be especially helpful for people who struggle to reach out.

Lastly, companies should do everything possible to support a healthy work-life balance for their employees. This means allowing them to take a few days breaks or providing them with means for communicating with their family while they are away. If a worker is self-employed, they need to take care of their mental health by focusing on their work-life balance.

A lot needs to change for the mental health crisis in the building and construction industry to stop. As long as construction companies and workers are committed to creating mentally healthy workplaces, this narrative will change. Most of these changes are easy to implement, putting a stop to the ripple effects of suicide.

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